May/June 1999 // Commentary
Technology-Enhanced Learning in Industry and Higher Education: Preliminary Report on a "Gap" Analysis
by Joe Bocchi, Virginia Watson, and Frances Weyand
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Joe Bocchi, Virginia Watson, and Frances Weyand "Technology-Enhanced Learning in Industry and Higher Education: Preliminary Report on a "Gap" Analysis" The Technology Source, May/June 1999. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

In the rush to promote alternative learning methods, many developers of technology-enhanced learning (TEL) and Web-based training (WBT) have not targeted appropriate outcomes for these improved delivery methods. In fact, TEL and WBT are often defined as "just" another kind of deliverable instruction—like any other training product that provides basic content and skills.

Industry and education need, however, to conceive of TEL and WBT against the more expansive backdrops of distributive knowledge systems (such as the Internet) and cognitive processes of learners in hypertext environments. TEL developers in both industry and education must collaborate with each other more extensively to redefine "learning" in digital environments. In this article, we recommend ways in which TEL may be used to bridge gaps between industry and higher education and to teach college students specific job competencies.

Scope of "Gap" Analysis Research

Under a Georgia state contract, we examined TEL and WBT by analyzing the existing literature on its use and applications. Our research covered a spectrum of TEL programs and methods. TEL relies heavily on advanced technology (such as WBT, teleconferencing, groupware, and courseware) as the main vehicle by which learners access information, interact, apply knowledge, and otherwise engage in learning activities.

We reviewed 100 innovative programs nationwide that utilize TEL and WBT before focusing our research on 40 programs in Georgia. Within the state, we conducted case studies of "best practices" in industry and higher education; we also interviewed five major Georgia employers, as well as two firms that provide customized instructor-led and technology-based training packages to major employers. Finally, we studied 34 higher education and secondary school programs.

Findings presented here are based on the first 7-month stage of a 12-month research contract.

Workforce Needs and Current Use of TEL and WBT

Our preliminary findings are that, while the potential for TEL and WBT is great (at least in theory), industry and higher education typically have focused on the following types of usage:

  • Teaching basic course content and computer, technical, or software-specific skills as opposed to enhancing high-level cognitive and organizational competencies. For example, advanced technology often is used to simply post course content or lectures on the Web. We believe, however, that even a content-focused course could use advanced technology to enhance cognitive and organizational competencies. For example, an instructor could require student teams to collaborate online to synthesize and condense their own lecture notes, then publish them on the Web for class review and revision.
  • Providing deliverables that address short-term performance as opposed to developing long-term learning environments within cross-disciplinary contexts. Many programs rely on CD-ROM or computer-based training (CBT) modules that focus on short-term knowledge acquisition that can be assessed easily with online tests. Long-term learning settings require curricula in which learners progressively use a range of technology for critically accessing information, communicating it, and deploying it to address real problems that span departmental and disciplinary boundaries.

We assumed that training and education should promote advanced job competencies. We relied in part on the 1991 U.S. Department of Labor report, "What Work Requires of Students," which identifies key "employment" skills and attributes in the following areas:

  • Resource allocation
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Information processing
  • Systems (understanding social, organizational, technological systems; designing and improving systems)
  • Technology

This and subsequent reports helped us position our study of actual uses of TEL and WBT against the rich body of educational and organizational theory and research.

Critical Barriers to Adequate TEL and WBT Use

The literature, along with our research, suggests that one contributing factor to low-level use of TEL and WBT is that designers, educators, and vendors typically do not associate learning systems with organizational objectives. Dr. Vince Eugenio, National Manager of Learning and Support Technologies at NationsBank, claims that the implementation of learning and support technologies must integrally be linked to a "compelling" vision and strategic plan. "All too often," says Dr. Eugenio, "individuals concentrate on the latest computer or software package," without linking technology to business objectives or to the core competencies of the organization (Eugenio, 1998, p. 33).

Another factor is that assessors measure short-term learning rather than long-term individual and organizational performance, which means training and instructional design work often is inconsistent with business needs. What results is event-driven training focused on user acquisition of localized skills, not on the more important cognitive or organizational competencies.

Focusing on Fluency Rather Than Skills

The most beneficial discussions on the advanced use of TEL and WBT address: (1) educational theory, research, and practice; and (2) industry needs for knowledge workers who are technologically savvy. Kathleen Fulton, Associate Director of the Center for Learning and Educational Technology at the University of Maryland-College Park, is one scholar who recognizes the importance of both subjects. In her research on the cutting-edge uses of TEL and WBT, Fulton examines reports from industry and education (1997). Fulton makes useful distinctions between first-level learning skills (learning about technology) and second-level skills (learning through technology). Technological fluency associated with second-level learning, says Fulton, combines what separately have been called information, literacy, communication, and technology skills.

Second-level fluency entails:

  • finding information from a variety of sources and disciplinary perspectives;
  • making critical judgments about information value, reliability, and validity; and
  • creating and distributing information and knowledge via many communication forms that merge in technology-mediated communications formats.

Gaps between Industry and Higher Education Use of TEL and WBT

Though industry and higher education share a common misdirection of focus (on skills rather than fluency), there are at least two significant differences between industry and higher education uses of TEL that may affect competency levels of the 21st-century workforce.

First, industry use of TEL and WBT typically is driven from the top-down, while higher education use typically is bottom-up. In industry, TEL and WBT are used when they are important to attain company business goals, appropriate for a geographically-spread target audience, and expected to yield a high return on investment. The selection of TEL or WBT training is based on their fit with company culture and with the role technology plays in enabling routine business transactions and production. Industry is moving toward more TEL learning systems or "universities" that address multiple corporate performance needs. Such systemic programs are linked to corporate and divisional business objectives; they often combine hypertext-based training with other technology-enhanced instruction, such as teleconferencing, computer-based training, and electronic performance support systems (EPSS).

In contrast, most higher education use of TEL and WBT is driven by individual faculty, although state educational boards encourage teaching through technology. Faculty often develop TEL based on their own initiatives or as part of state-wide programs that primarily focus on individual course development projects. Project scopes typically are not institution- or system-wide, and state programs often reach only a small percentage of total faculty. Moreover, most faculty training and development efforts do not address high-level curricular objectives, organizational competencies, or the "holistic" development of students preparing for industry employment.

Second, industry and higher education have differing views on the core competencies students need for the workplace. Both agree that basic computing and hypertext skills are essential; both also agree that students now acquire these skills in grades K-12 and through their use of the Internet in daily life. However, interviewees from higher education place less emphasis on skills associated with use of systemic technology, such as Local Area Networks (LANs) and intranets. Overall, higher education representatives typically emphasize content coverage rather than cognitive or organizational competencies.

In contrast, most interviewees in industry believe that cognitive and organizational competencies should be stressed. They expect higher education to provide students with learning and problem-solving skills, including the ability to:

  • access an array of information sources using multiple technologies;
  • critically examine and apply information to solve real problems;
  • examine problems from multiple perspectives and disciplines; and
  • collaborate, communicate, and problem solve in teams.

Bridging the Gaps: Recommendations Based on Preliminary Research

Preliminary research shows that, when educational institutions use TEL, they enjoy these key benefits: better access to courses by a broader base of learners, better quality of course deliverables, and increased competitiveness with other institutions. TEL use also may positively affect student recruitment, retention, satisfaction levels, and general preparedness upon graduation. We present here several working recommendations for even greater returns on the use of TEL.

  • Higher education should increase the focus and scope of top-down programs that promote system- or institution-wide TEL and WBT.

Students need to learn and function within online systems that connect them to departmental and institutional information sources—to professionals in their fields of study as well as those in other disciplines.

Faculty development should require cross-disciplinary teams of faculty and information systems professionals to create systemic TEL. A team project might entail articulating overall learning objectives for an institution's general education courses, then building TEL into these courses. TEL would link courses, content, and various technologies used in the individual courses under a systems "umbrella" that would connect students and disciplines.

For example, a TEL program might require students in separate math, science, business, and sociology courses to collaborate in teams on a single assignment addressing a real-life issue. Student teams might determine how the institution's proposed expansion plan for building new dorms might affect local traffic patterns, area business planning and development, environmental issues, and even social patterns on campus. Students would use the TEL system to acquire and share respective course content, to conduct research with campus and local officials, to collaborate online, and to build models and simulations. Teams would then present findings in various electronic or paper media to real audiences, such as the campus building and grounds department, the ecology club, or a member of the local chamber of commerce.

It is important that TEL address organizational objectives and link learners to institutional resources, as well as to professional groups and industries. Learning outcomes should focus on learners' abilities to (1) address authentic problems that, like the example above, have real consequences; (2) collaborate with other learners, faculty, and professionals in their fields; and (3) apply cross-disciplinary knowledge. When possible, service learning and professional apprenticeships also should be facilitated through advanced technology.

  • Higher education should accelerate efforts to redefine "learning through technology" to better meet industry needs for graduates who possess advanced thinking and team competencies.

This entails shifting away from teaching students the technology, itself, to teaching how tools can be applied within systems and organizations. Existing cutting-edge programs could be used to help model effective TEL methods, if issues of intellectual property, interstate collaboration, and system-wide strategic planning are better addressed.

  • Higher education and industry must act as partners to use technology to connect novices with professionals in a range of cross-disciplinary settings.

Using technology-mediated communication among learners and organizational communities helps build learning environments in which knowledge is developed collaboratively. In the above example of TEL in general education, for instance, professors might structure the problem so that students work online with professionals in government and local business to define the scope of the issue, to access and assess information, and to propose feasible solutions.

The concept of establishing learning communities should not be confined solely to students. Industry instructional designers and higher education faculty themselves can better apply models of technology-mediated communication to their own interaction and growth as unified, collaborative learning communities.

Partners in Education: The Need for a Unified Learning Community

Becoming true educational partners entails abandoning misguided notions that industry is too pragmatic and higher education is too theoretical to find common ground. Together, industry and education can establish bridges to shape policy and curricula, to fund initiatives and research, and to teach future employees organizational and technological competencies. Rather than lament the lack of infrastructure, dig in our heels, and resist—or rush like lemmings to the "cutting edge" of new technologies—we in the learning field should converse, plan, assess, and build across disciplines and across institutions. Without such collaboration, TEL and WBT will remain add-ons to traditional instructor-led training—merely new ways of packaging "content" that have little impact on organizational development.


Eugenio, V. (1998). Implementing learning technologies? Corporate University Review, 6(2), 33-38.

Fulton, K. (1997). Technological fluency: The skills students need for technological fluency: Summary of Milken Exchange Paper. Retrieved July 30, 1998 from the World Wide Web:

Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS). (1991). What work requires of students. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor.

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